Friday, September 12, 2008

Who gets earmarks? 

With all the discussion going on of earmarks and Alaska, I thought I would bring a couple of papers that might clarify the debate. �Melissa Boyle and Victor Matheson of Holy Cross recently wrote a short paper on the determinants of earmark spending. �It fits a few points that are important:

  1. The party in power gets more earmarks. �Their study looks at 2000 through 2006, and Republican senators were able to get more than Democratic senators.
  2. The more senior that senator is, the more powerful they are and the more earmarks they can steer home.
  3. Because, unlike the House, the Senate provides two seats to each state, smaller states will have a larger per capita figure as they have disproportionate power in one half of Congress. �(This is, as they mention, the Constitutional compromise that helped end the Articles of Confederation.) �

Now that description all points to one guy, Sen. Ted Stevens, who happens to be the senator of the state from where Gov. Palin hails. �Regardless of her actions, that state was bound to get a disproportionate share of earmarks, according to the Boyle and Matheson estimates. �They also cite Bernhardt, Dubey and Hughson (2004) and Knight (2004) as providing supporting evidence.

I wrote to Matheson (a Minnesota native, we have a good mutual friend) who indicated that he was supportive of Senator Obama in the presidential race. �I had thought that perhaps density or share of land held by the federal government -- a big issue in the West and in Alaska -- might be an explanatory variable. �He hadn't tested that, but makes the good point that money for federally owned land may come through regular appropriations, not an earmark. �Regarding the small state hypothesis, note that the second highest state in per capita earmarks is Hawaii. �

I asked Matheson if he could check the residuals, which might indicate who is 'porkier' than the others. �The scores kind of surprise me. �Here's what Matheson found:

Arizona has the eighth "best" residual (behind both Joe Biden's Delaware and John Kerry/Ted Kennedy's MA). Alaska is dead last. IL comes in with a residual right around $0. The residents of Alaska averaged about $450 more per year in earmarks than one would expect even despite their small size, Republican delegations, and senior senator tenure. AZ received about $120 less than one would expect. Residents of Delaware received $165 less per person than would be expected. It should be noted that Delaware residents actually receive slightly more than AZ residents but they come out better in the residual comparisons because being a smaller state and Biden having more tenure than McCain, we would expect them to be raking in a lot more.

He's a bit more muted on Obama, who as a freshman senator you would have thought would come up on the short end of the earmark stick (and his state is pretty good sized.) �But the nature of those earmarks -- for projects that helped political backers or for the place his wife works -- might raise some extra scrutiny. �So too are these votes. Matheson also notes that the results might make Republicans look the worse because of Lord Acton:

Thus the real answer may be that absolute power corrupts absolutely and that the Democrats may overtake the Republicans as the biggest crooks once the upcoming election winds up. No way to tell with the current data, however.
That's why there are still political analysts.

Labels: , , ,